31 December 2012

2012: Achieving dreams, overcoming challenges

2102. What a rollercoaster it was. I am not sure how it is the end of the year already, yet at the same time the start of the year seems so infinitely long ago. I'm just tired I guess.

This was the year of immense challenges, meeting new people, countless new experiences, tremendous highs, devastating lows, and of course, achieving dreams. Years ago I had the idea of moving to a different country for 1 year, then in 2011 I set myself the challenge to turn that idea into a reality by declaring that by March 2012 I was to leave behind my home of Melbourne, Australia and set off for New York City.

And since March 2012 I've been traveling around America ever since.

Arriving in Los Angeles, America with not the slightest idea of where to go, what I am doing, and the fear that I have just made a huge mistake, was one of the scariest times of my entire life. But, I survived, and then thrived! To think that 9 months later I am still traveling. Looking back on it now makes me feel the proudest I have ever felt.

I've had some awesome experiences that I will remember for years to come, like the time I climbed the Hollywood hills with some amazing new friends, accidentally attended a movie premier in Los Angeles, camped by this beautiful lake in upstate California, went on a great wine tour in the Napa Valley in California, got a cool job as the host of a hostel pub crawl in San Francisco... well, there is too many to list really.

I saw some incredible places. The Grand Canyon, Kings Canyon National Park, Lopez Island (off the coast of Washington state),Vancouver, Canada, Central Park in New York City, and just countless more.

Then, of course, there have been the absolutely incredible people I have met along the way, many of whom I have remained great friends with. Not to mention how cool it is to now have friends from literally all over the world too. There was Vincent from Holland, Isabel from Portugal, Mardy from Taiwan, Chris from Switzerland and Clare from Taiwan, and just so, so many more. They made this year, and trip, truly memorable.

But above all else, this year was all about following dreams and overcoming challenges.

The day I arrived in New York City was one of the greatest days of my life for it signified so much to me. As I type this now, I am actually sitting in the offices of where I work, in the heart of New York City, and I even somehow got lucky enough to have accommodation in the heart of the city too! This was exactly what I had dreamed of doing all along, and to think that I have actually achieved just that and more is... pretty special.

There certainly has been more than my share of challenges and trails, as this trip was far from simply making great new friends, seeing amazing sights and having good times. I've hobbled through raging storms on an injured ankle, visited hospitals, had my backpack stolen and wine spilled on my MacBook Pro (killing it), and quite often questioned why I am even doing this and if it was all worth it. The important thing however is that I tackled them all head on, and ultimately overcame every obstacle thrown my way without once giving up. It certainly hasn't been a breeze, but I guess it would have been foolish and unrealistic of me to expect it to be anyway, and what's more is that it makes you appreciate the good times that little more, and prepares you for whatever challenges the future may hold too.

This is the year that I will look back on for the rest of my life as an insight into how great life can when I am not afraid to take risks, a reminder of what I am capable of (often being far more than I ever imagined), and the starting point of a completely different life path due to all the friends I've made and lessons learned, a life path I certainly wouldn't be on now if it wasn't for this year.

Now, I guess there is only one two things left to do. Firstly, to finish off this trip and return back home to Australia, see all my friends and family again whom I miss so very much, and relax for a while. And secondly, well it is obvious isn't it? With this dream now complete, it is time to get to work on the next, even bigger one!

Happy New Year everybody =)

24 December 2012

New York City - Accommodation and Exploration

I'll be honest here. I really do not have the slightest clue on how I am doing this trip, and how the things that happen to me actually happen. I plan hardly anything, and when I do it is always last-minute and never ever goes to plan anyway... but alas it seems that this trip certainly still has plenty of surprises left.

Let me begin.

Back during my stay with a family in Bellingham, Washington state for HelpX (the program where you work in exchange for room and food) I mentioned that I was to be heading to New York City soon. They in turn informed me that they have a good family friend who lives there, one who they were sure would be happy to offer their spare room to me for a few days free of charge. They emailed the friend, they replied, everything got organized, and a few days ago now I arrived in my free accommodation... which happens to be on the 15th floor of an apartment in the very heart of Manhattan...wow!

Here are some shots from my window:

6th Avenue down below. I really love this city.
Same window, just looking to the left now

Oh yeah... did I mention if I stick my head out the window and look down the street, I can see the Empire State Building? Ha!
To make things even better, Tammy (the lady who owns the apartment) is away for the next five days, so not only do I get to stay in her place for free, I now get the place to myself! After months of hostels, friends couches, and HelpX accommodation stays where I had to work quite hard, the opportunity for five days of my own bed, own room, and peace and quiet, is more welcomed than you could possibly imagine.

This is easily one of the greatest, luckiest things that has ever happened to me. Ever. Hostels are expensive in NYC, and after traveling for such a long time now the less money I spend the better, but the best thing of all is the chance to relax and see the city at a pace and convenience I never thought I'd ever get. Cool.

Determined not to let the five days of freedom and stability pass me by, I set out to see as much of the city as I could, making the most of the brilliant location of the apartment. Oh yeah, it happened to be Thanksgiving the following day too, which meant the city was extremely busy, and the annual Thanksgiving's Parade too, woo!

The city is even more busy than usual on Thanksgivings Day!

Yes! I got to see Spongebob Squarepants! My trip is now complete.
Micky Mouse has let himself go over the years it appears... check out that beer gut haha!
I've officially stepped foot in the famous Times Square

I really like this shot

Found the Rockefeller Center ice ring. Very cool.

Stumbled across this store! Easily a highlight of my day to find this!
New York City Public Library
Grand Central Station
Madison Square Garden. It was amazing.

With the streets closed due to the parade, it allowed me to experience an extremely rare phenomenon... a New York City street completely void of people and cars. I really felt lucky for this simple fact to be honest.
The Empire State Building from afar
The Chrysler Building
The iconic Flatiron Building
I knew when I saw it during the day that I just had to return again at night. So at midnight, that's what I did. And it was awesome.
And that's what I did... on only my first day of 5 actually! It was a long day, but with only a limited time in the this dream city of mine I am determined to push myself and make the absolute most of it before it is time to move on again.

Four more days until Tammy returns, it is going to be intense!

19 December 2012

New York City - Central Park

It's day two here in New York City, and after spending my first day at the Museum of Natural History (which already is counted as one of the highlights of my entire trip) I was lucky enough to stumble my way out of my hostel (due to another night of jet lag) to find the bluest of skies. Win!

The hostel I am staying at is not only close to the Museum of Natural History, but is also less than a block away from Central Park, my destination for the day of course.

Wow, Central Park. I used to have a picture of this place on my wall for years, the dream being to one day be here in person so I can take my own pictures of it. With my trusty iPhone 4 in tow I think I managed to pull off some pretty awesome shots, while calming enjoying the beautifully crisp morning air and unbelievably spectacular atmosphere around me.

Without further ado I'd like to share with you through photography the accomplishment of one of my longest held life goals:

My favourite shot I think

Simply magic.

I pondered deeply while walking through this park, just being here feels like an illusion, something that I will wake up from at any moment, to find myself back in my bed back home in Australia. Although until I do wake up from it I guess I can play along with the illusion a little longer. Despite it being the last week of Autumn the weather was temperature was perfect, although not quite warm enough for t-shirts and a picnic. I imagined how full and alive this park would be during the Summer months, to just chill out on the lawns and park benches, an ultimate escape from the relentless bustle of the city streets just out of view.

It looks like I'll have to return some day in the future during a warmer time.

After the park it was already well past mid-afternoon, and what better way to round off what had already started of as an extremely awesome day then to visit for the second day in a row the Museum of Natural History! My time spent there the previous day was simply no where near enough, not to mention what a great way it is to have a relaxing afternoon. Even on this second visit it continued to amaze and surprise me.

Alas there is still so much more to see.

04 December 2012

New York City - The Museum of Natural History

New York City - Day One.

After a ridiculous nights sleep (jet lag...) after arriving the day before, I was somewhat ready to tackle New York City first thing in the morning! I had actually made it to New York City! Simply put, it was awesome. Considering the amount of time remaining on this trip before I planned to return home I figured I had about 7 days, perhaps 10, to spend here before having to move on. Let's hope that that is enough time!

I kind of don't know what words to write to be honest, without sounding like a terribly broken record, constantly repeating things along the lines of "wow I can't believe I'm here!" so... I will keep text to a minimum and let the pictures do most of the talking.

Stepping out of my hostel on 88th St on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Very cool indeed.

It may or may not have been a coincidence that my hostel just happened to be just around the corner from one of my most must-see places on my entire trip; the Museum of Natural History!

The Museum of Natural History. Here in the flesh at long last.
It is no surprise that I enjoy museums, in fact every single major city I have been to on this entire trip I have made sure to visit their main museum attraction. I was trying to think of which has been my favourite one so far... but I can't decide, either way this museum's reputation is without a doubt well deserved... it was truly amazing.

I'm In!
Immediately upon buying my tickets I signed up for the free walking tour offered. Best. Time. Ever. The tour guy was simply awesome, and over the following two hours he explained in amazing detail and creativity about half of what the museum had in store (the place is massive, you can't get through it in only two hours). Wow what fun it was, to soak in so much knowledge about a huge variety of topics.

My first (and favourite room) was the Haydon Room, which highlighted the size scale of objects throughout our world and universe from the astronomical (galaxies and stars), to the classical (buildings on Earth, us humans), to the atomic level(virus strains, atoms) and everything in between. It was simply brilliant.

Focusing on the astronomical scale
This is a to scale representation of the solar system, with that huge sphere on the left our sun.
All the way down to the atomic scale!
The huge sphere you saw in the image wasn't just used as a scaled version of the sun, but was used throughout the entire room as a reference point of size. Sometimes it represented the size of the sun, other times the size of Earth, a rain drop, a strain of virus, and even down to the size of a Hydrogen atom, all to help you better visualize the astronomical, classical, and atomic scale. Amazing.

I spent quite some time in that room.

Below are some other random shots throughout my wanderings.

A real asteroid. It weighed something like 44 tonnes, and the floor beneath it had to be reinforced to support its weight.
One of the worlds largest, and oldest, ever trees. Sadly of which was cut down in I think the 1930's. I believe from memory it was around 2000 years old. Amazing.
Of particular brilliance was the Oceanography room, consisting of extremely detailed and varied array of information and diagrams of everything from marine life, to the life cycle of the oceans, its ecosystems, and so much more. Not to mention what I thought was one of the most impressive items of the entire museum... the gigantic sized Blue Whale model hanging from the ceiling... wow!

Entering the oceanography room... I was in awe before I even stepped through the door
How cool is that! Believe me it is even more impressive in person, the thing was absolutely huge and highly detailed.
And of course whenever I'm in a museum, if I'm not in the Astronomy room, you'll find me in the Archeology section.

We spent I think 40 minutes in these rooms whilst on the tour, the guide had amazing knowledge and facts at his disposals. Every few steps we would stop, this was by far the most informative tour I've ever been on, I loved it.

Oh yeah, fun fact! Because, as I've always said, this blog is both entertaining and educational!

So have you ever wondered what actually classifies something is, or is not, a 'dinosaur'? Of course you have! Now sure, if you are asked 'what is a dinosaur' you will (hopefully) be able to name a few, or identify them from a picture of course... but how is a dinosaur classified as a dinosaur and not as a mammal, or reptile, or something else? Well, thanks to the awesome tour guide, I now know that answer! And now you will too!

Have a look at this picture below:

This depicts a hip joint of a dinosaur, and this spot here is exactly how archeologists classify a fossil as a dinosaur, and it seemed like a remarkably simple method considering we are dealing with the complexity that is evolution over millions of years. You'll notice that the end of the leg bone sits inside a completely hollowed out area of the hip bone, and you can imagine that as the dinosaur walks, this would rotate in this socket thus allowing for angled movement. When you compare this kind of hip-to-leg joint structure to other animals, they (including us humans) do not have a completely hollowed out hip bone joint. We mammals for instance have a spherical cut out within our hip joint that the top of our leg bone sits in, but this cut out does not go all the way through however.

See the image below of a human hip joint below for clarity:

This subtle different is what helps class what as a dinosaur and what is not. Very cool! Well I thought so at least. By using that method of classification, it also means that modern day birds are in fact dinosaurs, for their hip joint matches the criteria I briefly described above, meaning that birds have been around since the dinosaurs, with the last dinosaurs roaming over 65 million years ago. Interesting stuff!

And I guess that concludes my Museum of Natural history visit. Above was a very small handful of the photos I took, because really you could take a thousand and still have rooms left to explore, but alas I shall move on. Although this basically concludes my first day in New York City as well, with my remaining time rounded out with some dinner and reading at the hostel. And wow, was an amazing day it was. I've always been a huge fans of museums, whether it be about science, nature, space, visiting one has always been ranked highly on my must-see places, and I can gladly and willingly spend an entire day in one, with this one in particularly being on eof the best I have ever been to yet.

Bye for now!